Eating Healthy on a Budget

$4.20 per person per day. That’s the SNAP Challenge. I don't know about you, but many of us find ourselves 'hungry for change' (just a quick nod to the documentary of the same name). The SNAP Challenge invites each person to “shop for your meals with the daily average per person benefit provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps) to get a sense of some of the challenges faced by those struggling to put food on the table.”

I decided to take the challenge.

Can you really eat healthy on a budget? Let's find out.

The Challenge

Here’s how the challenge breaks down financially for my family of five. $4.20/day x five equals $126.00 per person for a month with 30 days.  That totals $630.00 for the entire month.

I shop bi-weekly so my budget is $315.00 for two shopping trips per month. I’ve actually been shopping this way for years and have been able to bring our family’s average closer to $4.00/day per person and eat nutritional, whole foods as well as the occasional splurge on pizza or an indulgent trip to our favorite fro-yo place.

Here’s a sneak peek into how I do it and how you can too.

  • Make a plan: Decide what you’re going to eat before heading to the store. Your plan can be as simple as writing out your dinners on a piece of paper or as sophisticated as using an online plan or something in between. The point is to have a plan and stick to it.

  • Write it down: Check your pantry and cupboards. Find out what you already have and then make your grocery list. Because we’re all human and either forget to write something down or see an item at the store that we ‘must have’, give yourself a 5% margin outside of your list as long as it stays within your budget. That means if you have fifty items on your list you can add 2.5 non-list additional items. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it will help you stay on track.

  • Shop the outside/perimeter first: The most nutritional food is on the perimeter of your grocery aisles. Spend the bulk of your budget here. Because fresh produce is fresh, you may want to use a fruit and vegetable wash to keep your fruit and veggies cleaner and fresher longer. Here are some ideas for a fruit and veggie wash.

  • Think whole foods over pre-packaged items. Keep in mind that when you buy a pre-packaged meal you are paying for packaging and convenience and not nutrition. I fully understand the need for some occasional convenience meals. Remember, we’re a family of five. We have three kids in three different schools and all play a sport. We’re also a family with two adults working full time. Believe me, I understand the need for convenience. However, once you get into the habit of planning and prepping, the need for convenience items will significantly decrease.

  • Prep for success: Once you get your food home, take the time to clean your fruit and vegetables. Chop, cut, slice and separate your veggies into ready to go snack bags for a quick ‘grab and go’. Brown your ground beef and store it in freezer bags for a quick addition to soups or pastas. This will take some time, but it’s also a great way to get the whole family involved and will teach your kids the value of good, nutrient filled food.

  • Learn to cook: Ah, yes…cooking. It takes time, energy and strangely, just a little skill. Cookbooks, online recipes, cooking shows, and family heirloom recipes abound. There’s really no reason for anyone to use the excuse, “I can’t cook.” Yes, you can. It might not be a five star meal, but you can read a recipe and if you follow it, will find food success.

Congratulations! By following a few simple tips you are on your way to enjoying a healthier lifestyle and a smaller food budget. $4.20 per person per day can be done and it can be done while enjoying food that good, nutritionally sound and even local. If you need help making this happen for your family, please contact your local health and nutrition professionals. Or, comment below. Let's keep this conversation going.

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